Language Justice Curriculum

Chapter 2: Role and Ethics I


Welcome + Word String Builder – 20 minutes 
Defining Interpretation  – 30 minutes
Scenarios  – 30 minutes

Review – 10 minutes
Close – 10 minutes

  • To give participants a working definition of interpretation
  • To discuss characteristics of interpreting in different scenarios
  • To explore the role of the interpreter and the impact of the interpreter’s decisions
  • To practice interpreting in situations where the role of the interpreter may be put to the test
Materials Needed
  • Flip chart
  • Markers
Notes for facilitators: This is the first of two chapters exploring an interpreter’s role and ethics.


Step One:

  • Facilitators welcome everyone to the practice session.
  • Facilitators review the goals of the practice session: To define interpretation, discuss characteristics of interpreting in different scenarios, explore the role of the interpreter and the impact of the interpreter’s decisions, and practice interpreting in situations where the role of the interpreter may be put to the test.

Step Two:

  • Facilitator explains the mechanics of the warm-up exercise, Word String Builder.
  • Facilitator leads group through a round of introductions.
    • The first participant will say their name and a fruit whose name starts with their first initial (for example, Monse-manzana).
    • The second participant will repeat the previous name and fruit and add their own name and fruit (eg., Monse-manzana, Jackie-jackfruit). Other participants follow (eg., Monse-manzana, Jackie-jackfruit, Patty-piña).
    • Facilitator explains important guidelines: no helping, no stopping, and no commentary from other participants.
    • After everyone has introduced themselves, the facilitator asks:
      • What was fun or easy about the exercise?
      • What did you notice?
      • What skills or strategies did you use to remember what was said?
  • Facilitator leads the group through a second round of the exercise. This time, the goal is to build a sentence.
    • The first participant will choose and say a word to start the sentence. For example, “when”.
    • The second participant in the circle will repeat the first word and add another. For example, “when-I”. Other participants will continue to add words to build the sentence. For example, “when-I-was”.
  • After everyone has added a word to the sentence, the facilitator asks:
    • What was fun or easy about the exercise?
    • What did you notice?
    • What did you do differently?


Step One:

  • Facilitators share a working definition of interpretation:
    • Interpretation is the relaying of verbal or visual messages from a source language to a target language without adding, subtracting, or changing.
    • Facilitator asks participants what words or phrases jump out at them. (¿Qué les llama la atención?)
    • Facilitators review what interpretation is not. Interpretation is not translating or summarizing. (Translating is connected to written language.Summarizing is a brief and concise account of what was previously said.)
    • Participants discuss the definition for several minutes.

Step Two:

  • Facilitators introduce/ review the two modes of interpretation.
    • Simultaneous interpretation is when the message is being relayed instantaneously, sometimes with a delay of two or three words. Many times it involves the use of interpretation equipment.
    • Consecutive interpretation is when the speaker speaks in chunks of information, pauses to let the interpreter relay the information, and continues to the next chunk. It involves taking turns, which can double the length of time.
    • Facilitators may want to model the two modes.
    • Participants discuss the modes of interpretation for several minutes.

Step Three:

  • Facilitators lead the group in a conversation about the different places where interpretation can occur.
    • Facilitators ask the group:
    • Where have you interpreted before?
    • What are some of the characteristics of interpreting in these places?
    • How would you describe it? What is easy about interpreting there? What is difficult?
  • Facilitator takes notes on flip chart paper.

The facilitators could close this section by saying something like: “Keep in mind that what may be difficult in one situation may not be so in another. For instance, it may be harder to interpret at a doctor’s appointment than it would be at a school conference. Or it may be difficult to interpret in situations where you identify with one of the speakers, and you get pulled into that person’s situation no matter where you are. The role of the interpreter is to negotiate the different situations that arise in any given scenario. Be aware of the impact the decisions made by the interpreter in difficult or tricky situations will have on the delivery of the message. Imagine what would happen if the two speakers were in Brazil and they spoke and understood the same language. There would be no one else there to make decisions for them. Your role as an interpreter is to transmit the message with as little added impact as possible.”

SCENARIOS – 30 minutes

Notes for facilitators: Please feel free to change the scenario to one that is most useful for your group or community. If there is a scenario your group is working on or specifically preparing for, this exercise is a good opportunity to practice that situation.You may also use a participant’s real-life example.

Step One:

  • Facilitators inform participants they will now have an opportunity to practice interpreting.
  • Facilitators divide participants into groups of three.
  • Each group will be given the same scenario.
    • One person will play the parent, one person will play the school principal, and one person will be the interpreter.
    • The parent in this scenario is trying to change a district-wide policy that says people need a Social Security number to volunteer at schools within the district.
    • Every participant will have the opportunity to play each one of the roles.
  • This session focuses on role and ethics, so facilitators may want to encourage participants to change the facts of each scenario to increase the level of difficulty and decision-making. The idea is to challenge participants by throwing a wrench into the scenario.
    • For example, the principal may turn to the interpreter and say something like, “You’ve interpreted this a million times, can you please just explain it to them?”
    • Or, the parent may turn to the interpreter and say, “Please don?t tell the principal this, but…?”
    • Or, the principal and parent may only be addressing or looking at the interpreter instead of each other.
  • Facilitators will call time every 5 minutes, and participants will switch roles.
  • The activity should last at least 15 minutes so that every participant has the opportunity to play each role.

Step Two:

  • Facilitators ask participants:
    • What happened?
    • How did that go?
    • What went well?
    • What was difficult?

REVIEW – 10 minutes

Facilitators review several points before closing:

  • As an interpreter, you are always making decisions. We are not here to tell you what is right or wrong. Rather, we believe that it is important to be conscious of those decisions and try to think about, and minimize, the impact of those decisions.
  • Ask yourself: Every time I, as an interpreter, make a decision for someone, am I taking away that person’s right to make their own decision?
  • Beyond the direct impact of a quick decision, there could be other consequences.
    • For instance, the interpreter may not be invited to interpret again or the group may become hesitant to use interpretation due to a bad experience, or what they perceive to be arbitrary decisions by the interpreter.
  • If the interpreter really wants to help, they should focus on interpreting.
  • We believe that the mic is not the best time or place to intervene. This doesn’t mean interpreters can’t help people. There is a time and place for everything. For instance, before or after interpreting, the interpreter could offer help, advocate for, or give information.
  • Also, let’s consider why an interpreter may want to help. It may be because the interpreter identifies with the person. For example, if the interpreter is also privileged or underprivileged, their identification with the person may make them want to jump in and “fix”a given situation.
  • This can be a complicated and emotional process, but it’s only the first part of Role and Ethics, so stay tuned for Part II!

CLOSE – 10 minutes

  • Facilitators ask participants to stand in a circle.
  • Facilitators ask participants to think about one thing they are taking away from this session. This could be a thought, a feeling, or even an action they?d like to take.
  • Participants take turns sharing what they are taking away.
  • Facilitators thank participants for coming and invite them to the next workshop.

We want to thank the Highlander Research and Education Center, Alice Johnson and Roberto Tijerina for bringing language justice into our lives. This chapter uses several activities and concepts from their Interpreting for Social Justice Curriculum.